Assessing the Field of Post-Adoption Services: Family Needs, Program Models, and Evaluation Issues. Summary Report. 2.2.1 Characteristics of Adoptive Families


Adoptive families are diverse in composition, often with relatively low incomes.

Recent studies have improved our understanding of families who adopted children from foster care. Statewide surveys of families who adopted children through the child welfare agencies in Illinois (Howard and Smith, 2000) and Oregon (Fine, 2000) offer clues about the pool of families that are, or might become, post-adoption service users. About 40 percent of the Illinois families responding to the survey were single parent.headed households  a rate considerably higher than that in the Oregon samples. Similar proportions of households had one adopted child in Oregon and Illinois samples (ranging from 42 to 46 percent). In Illinois, many (42 percent) had birth children as well as adopted children. Foster children were present in 21 percent of the families, and 12.5 percent of families had other children, typically grandchildren or other relatives. About 40 percent of the children in the Illinois sample were adopted by relatives, which is a larger percentage than in the Oregon sample (18 percent). In both states, the typical age of the responding parents was about 46. The median age for adoption finalization in Illinois was 6 years.

Substantial proportions of families in both states have relatively low incomes, so that Adoption Assistance appears to be an important source of support for many families raising adopted children (Howard and Smith, 2000). These findings may indicate a substantial change in the material circumstances of adoptive families during the last decade in comparison to earlier research, which tended to describe adoptive families as more affluent than the general public (c.f., Barth and Brooks, 2000). This may be partly attributable to the growing rate of adoption by relatives who do have fewer financial resources (Magruder, 1994). Yet in Oregon, where only one in five adoptions is by relatives, 48 percent of families earned less than $40,000 a year (Fine, 2000).

School problems are consistently rated as the most significant concerns for adoptive families in both states. It is therefore not surprising that, in Illinois, support for tutoring was the reason given most often to explain the need for an increase in subsidy (by 29 percent of the families indicating the need for a higher subsidy).

Several risk factors for disruption have been identified in adoptive family characteristics. Being adopted by strangers or by families with no prior adoptive or foster care experience seems to heighten the risk for disruption (Barth, Berry, Yoshikami, Goodfield, and Carson, 1988; Berry and Barth, 1990; Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald, 1986; Smith and Howard, 1991). Several studies (Berry and Barth, 1990; Groze, 1986; USR&E, 1985) have found that younger adoptive parents are more likely to disrupt, but this conclusion is not unanimously supported. Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald (1986) did not find parental age to be a significant risk factor.

One of the more disquieting findings in the disruption literature is that adoptions by more-educated parents, particularly mothers, are more likely to disrupt (Barth et al., 1988; Brooks and Barth, 2002; Boyne, Denby, Kettenring, and Wheeler, 1984). Whereas Partridge, Hornby, and McDonald (1986) did not find education significant in predicting disruption, the studies that did find a difference theorize that this could be in part because of the heightened expectations that more educated parents may have for their children, as well as the lack of community resources equipped to handle children with special needs (Barth and Berry, 1991).

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